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The Bitter Waters of Medicine Creek: A Tragic Clash Between White and Native America

3.62  ·  Rating Details ·  99 Ratings  ·  28 Reviews
The riveting story of a dramatic confrontation between Native Americans and white settlers, a compelling conflict that unfolded in the newly created Washington Territory from 1853 to 1857.

When appointed Washington’s first governor, Isaac Ingalls Stevens, an ambitious military man turned politician, had one goal: to persuade (peacefully if possible) the Indians of the Puget
ebook, 384 pages
Published March 1st 2011 by Vintage (first published January 1st 2011)
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Debbie Zapata
Well, I should not have picked this book to read right around election day. I cannot get interested in it, as it begins with the life story of Isaac Stevens, a military man who was interested in politics and getting ahead, eventually becoming the first governor of the American state of Washington. He was pushy, arrogant, and obnoxious. I wanted to smack him upside the head more than once.

I know the book will eventually relate yet another tragic conflict between Native Americans and the United St
Jul 09, 2012 Sasha rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-pnw
On one hand, Kluger is to be commended for bringing a little known story and little known chapter of American history to light. It takes some talent to write a successful book about the history of treaties with the Native peoples in the Pacific Northwest. True, at times the narrative gets bogged down in details or in Kluger's repetitions and stylistic tics - how many times do we need to hear the same travel brochure blurb about the beauty of the Pacific Northwest, or a reminder of just how racis ...more
Pat Loughery
Nov 29, 2011 Pat Loughery rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Those interested in US history, the US West, native peoples, the Nisqually, and justice
This is an extremely well researched, thorough, and careful book. It explores the history of white settlement in the Puget Sound (Seattle, WA) area, through the story of Leschi, a leader of the Nisqually people. Leschi was an early friend of the British and American settlers, but was incensed by the poor treatment of the Washington territory governor's treaty demands, which gave native nations very small and horribly poor quality reservations. Leschi became a guerilla leader staging sporadic att ...more
Once upon a time, the Washington territory went war with the Nisqually tribe. After that war, we executed an enemy combatant, Chief Leschi, as a criminal. We should not have done that. This book is about that.

I read this book a while ago. I took some notes for a review I don't seem to be able to bear to write, so for now, this placeholder. The copy I read, which I stumbled upon in the Washington State Law Library, is signed by the author who wrote in that it was inspired by a friend of mine. Ot
May 30, 2011 Nick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a transplant to western Washington, I followed the news of the historical court which considered the 150 year old case against Leschi, a Nisqually Indian leader who organized resistance to an unjust treaty. Kluger's narrative, based on very thoroughgoing research, covers the background, principal actors, and aftermath of the trial and conviction of Leschi, while making the case for his exoneration. Kluger doesn't stop there, but summarizes the subsequent history of the Nisquallys before relat ...more
Aug 29, 2011 Nola rated it did not like it
The term "beating a dead horse" comes to mind. There is so much argument for the author's point of view instead of letting the facts speak for themselves that the facts are buried and almost inaccessible. The parenthetical asides keep the narrative from flowing, and many of the asides are only snide insinuations or minute details that would be better suited for an appendix. The book did seem to pick up a bit toward the end when discussing recent history and it sparked my interest in the history ...more
Mar 20, 2011 Don rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, top-100, own
An exhaustive look at just how screwed-over Chief Leschi was by First Gov Isaac Stevens. There is lots of good history here (although it reads as though the author was trying to be a little too convincing, even though the facts were doing all the convincing that needed to be done). Its real strength, however, is the way Kluger brings the story right up to today, showing the relevance in "connecting the dots" in history.
Don  Kent
While this book dragged a bit toward the end, it is an important read for anyone who loves and would understand the great Pacific Northwest.
I found this book an odd mix of fascinating, drudging, and textbook. There were certain chapters (mostly in the beginning) that really drew me in and I learned a lot about the origins of the state of Washington, where I now reside. Somewhere towards the middle, it slogged almost to a stopping point. It felt redundant and reminded me of the god-awful textbooks I used to have to read in high school about American Government. The author is certainly knowledgeable about the topic and has plenty of g ...more
Nicolina Miller
Mar 27, 2013 Nicolina Miller rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own
I was incredibly excited to have found this book--a telling of the native story in the specific place where I now live. I am still glad to have found it. The facts of the events surrounding the near extinction of the natives of the Puget Sound are compelling and the author is exhaustive in his research. I didn't give this book 5 stars because of the author's writing style. Perhaps I am spoiled by the empathetic yet objective voice of Dee Brown (Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee) but I found this aut ...more
Mar 27, 2016 Ricardo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fic
A sober and passionate account of early-nineteenth century Washington state and it’s confrontation with native peoples. A lot of research was done to explore this entire era, but the two main subjects are the territorial governor Lewis and the Nisqually chief Leschi.
Many important events are described citing numerous sources, some of which contained conflicting perspectives. This balanced approach may not be a smooth reading experience, but I appreciated the attention to accuracy.
The author do
John Cain
This appears to be a well researched history about the first days of the Washington Territory. I thought it interesting that some many whites stood up for Chief Leschi, but obviously not enough because he was hung for murder in a time of war.

The Author spends a lot of time showing the racism and unfairness of the Indian treaties.

I am not certain why the Nisqually Tribe has not sought a Federal Pardon for Chief Leschi, but the author does a fine job of discussing the historial court that was held
Tin Wee
Apr 25, 2012 Tin Wee rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
An account of the white American incursion into native American territories in Washington State, and how the native Americans were systematically dispossessed of their lands. In particular, the book tells of Leschi, a Nisqually chief who tried to renegotiate unfair treaty terms and turned to violence when peaceful negotiations got nowhere. He was subsequently convicted of murder altho a state of war existed then. the story then covers the modern 'demonstration' trial which exonerates Leschi. It ...more
Aug 15, 2011 Bruce rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I liked the book and I learned a lot about the Oregon and Washington Territories that I did not know. I also found the story compelling. I really cared about what was happening and why. But there were times where I thought the author was repeating, overstating, and a few times played favorites with the story. I can understand why. But I found myself wanting to get on with the story, and then, worst of all, wondering if I was being given the history or being given a perspective. Would still recom ...more
Marsha Gladhart
Jun 03, 2015 Marsha Gladhart rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is very thoroughly researched. I'm not a nonfiction reader of choice so I found the thoroughness and details tedious at times. But I believe this is a book that needs to be read, especially if you live in Washington and live, work, and play on the beautiful land stolen from the native tribes. It's a reminder of how greed and ego can shape our history.
Gerald Curtis
Certainly well documented, and reported with exhausting detail, this expose of the governmental persecution and injustice to the Indians in the state of Washington was very disheartening to me. It makes me feel ashamed of our country.
Nancy Westrell
Aug 22, 2014 Nancy Westrell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very sobering historical research on the early days of Washington Territory, and Stevens, the first governor. If you are interested in the early history of settlement in the Pacific NW, and are tired of sanitized and sugar-coated accounts, this is an excellent and thorough account.
This author was looking for ideas for a novel and found this story.

I really didn't like it too much because the author seemed to be wanting to tell a narrative rather than write a history book.

Read it for my PNW History Class.
Feb 15, 2012 Dan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I liked the introduction to the Washington landscape and the epilogues were helpful. Overall, a decent book, with a bit too much detail for the laymen. The bias didn't bother me as much as it seemed to bother other readers. Could've been a bit shorter, but no major complaints.
Rena Jane
Nov 21, 2014 Rena Jane rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great exposition on the robbing of lands from western Washington state tribes, and the bravery and wisdom of Chief Leschi.

Very accurate, honest portrayal of the role Isaac Stevens played in early Washington state history.
Fredrick Danysh
Bitter Waters is the story of the American takeover of Washington Territory as well as the confict between its first governor, Issac Stevens, and the Native Americans. It is a tale of greed, war, and vengeance. Numerous photos are included.
Jul 13, 2012 Dan rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Plus: detailed and well-researched
Minus: slow-moving, maybe too detailed
Jul 06, 2012 Autumn rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this book. I had a hard time with the printed book, but loved the audio version. Local history is just fascinating
Aug 04, 2011 Amanda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thought this book was good. The history of the hanging of Leschi is fascinating, though the "action" moved slowly at times.
Beverly Kent
Aug 07, 2011 Beverly Kent rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
great northwest history with special appeal to Washington residents. read before/after Final Forest by Wm. Dietrich.
Ed Wagemann
May 12, 2011 Ed Wagemann rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
so far so good
Veronica rated it it was amazing
Jul 07, 2016
Michael Wall
Michael Wall rated it really liked it
Jun 21, 2012
Nancy rated it it was amazing
Feb 14, 2015
Jennifer Hughes
Jennifer Hughes rated it really liked it
Sep 24, 2015
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Richard Kluger won the Pulitzer Prize for Ashes to Ashes, a searing history of the cigarette industry, and was a two-time National Book Award finalist (for Simple Justice and The Paper). He lives near San Francisco.
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“The cost of contemplating history is often an uneasy conscience.” 3 likes
“White Americans cannot deny their long history of abusive transactions with people of color. These offenses, it should be noted out of fairness, can be explained in part by the fact that no other sizable national state has ever been formed from the confluence of so many diverse ethnic streams. All our heterogeneous ferment no doubt made contentiousness inevitable.” 2 likes
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